Q: My husband and I have been contemplating separating. We haven’t talked with my son or daughter about it, but it’s looking inevitable. My daughter is going into sixth grade this upcoming year. How can the school help my daughter with our family transition?
A: Most schools offer programs to help students cope with a separation or divorce of parents. One such program, called Banana Splits, groups students together with the purpose of exploring commonalities. Each meeting includes activities or counselor-led discussion meant to help students feel they are not alone in what they are experiencing. Elizabeth McGonagle, a social worker in Ballston Spa, originally created the program in 1978. More information about Banana Splits can be found here: http://www.bananasplitsresourcecenter.org/. In addition, your school counselor can meet with your daughter to talk individually as well as let her teachers know and check in with them to see how she is doing. It’s helpful, when possible, to have parents give school a “heads up” when things at home are changing or they are noticing their child’s behavior change.
Q: My job is causing my family to move to a different school district. When is the best time to make this transition and do schools let students stay to finish the year or continue in the same school even if residency changes?
A: The best time to move to a different school district is probably during the summer when school is not in session so your son/daughter is starting the year with the rest of the students. A few students have told me that they liked moving at the very end of the school year to give themselves a chance to get to know some students to make plans with over the summer in the new house. However, these students were strong students academically, so transitioning during the year didn’t pose a challenge when faced with a discontinuity in curriculum. Most of the time, students don’t have a choice on when they move so the school counselor will work it out the best way possible by making sure that students understand their schedule, teachers are aware of them starting, and if given lead time, that other students are employed to be buddies or helpers.
Some schools allow students to finish the current school year depending on how close it is to the end of the year. Most schools would not allow a student to stay in a district once the year ends, if the family has moved out of the district. These policies are school dependent, so you would need to check with the districts involved.
Q: When my son comes home from school, he doesn’t talk to me like he used to. I ask him how school was and he says, “Fine.” How do I get him to open up?
A: Ask open-ended questions like, “What was the best thing about school today?” or “What’s something you learned in a class that you didn’t know before?” or “What’s new with a particular friend?” I’ve found that some students often don’t open up right away and only give one-word answers. If I persist by asking more non-threatening questions first like, “Who’s your favorite teacher and why?” or “What are the good things about middle/high school?” or “What’s the name of someone you’ve met this year that you didn’t know before?” then they feel more comfortable sharing these kinds of answers. Remember, your son will likely not be forthcoming with information as he moves into adolescence. It’s part of his discovering his identity.
Anne-Marie Hughes is a local middle and high school guidance counselor. Her column appears the first Sunday of every month in The Sunday Gazette during the school year. Send questions to Ask The Counselor to firstname.lastname@example.org.